Preparing for a New Trail

A few years ago when my friend Kim and I decided to join my Aunt Ida for a 6-day backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, we knew we had our work cut out for us. You see, Kim and I are expertly proficient at nothing athletic or physical, but we aren't going to make fools of ourselves either. We're going to at least look like we know what we're doing, even if we're shaking in our running shoes, golf shoes, or hiking boots the whole time.

So before setting out on this famous trail with 40+ pounds strapped to our backs, we began to research the AT, the equipment we would need, the exercises that would prepare us, and the obstacles we might encounter along the path. Our research led in us several directions.

First of all, I read and later passed on to Kim a delightful book by Bill Bryson called A Walk in the Woods. Bryson, a self-professed non-athletic writer, decided to set out on the AT with a rather strange hiking buddy a number of years ago and journal about his encounters. By the time we had finished reading his hilarious accounts of the people he'd met, the bears he heard rummaging around outside his tent, and the constant dumping of his too heavy pack, we were more determined than ever to do this thing. But after reading about a group of giddy ladies he ran into on his first day we were also more set than ever on doing it right. Seems these well-outfitted women from California had started out on the trail with intentions of traveling the full 2,000+ miles but had turned back after just one day. We would not be those women!

So we continued to research for our trip. We read Backpacking: A Woman's Guide by Adrienne Hall. This book, unlike Bryson's, was short on humor and high on reality and gravity. While it was perhaps the most helpful book we read, it was also the one that made us the most nervous. From it we learned, for instance, that bears could pick up the scent of a woman on her menstrual cycle and just what to do with that dilemma. As you can imagine, we began to pray about the most interesting things after reading the advice from Adrienne.

Of course, being the techno-savvy chicks we are, we also inquired about the AT on the Internet. Here we found the scariest stories of all, as is often the case with computer generated research, don't you think? We learned about boy scouts killed by bears, women killed by still-at-large crazy people, and snakes, ticks, and other creatures we could encounter. Yes, we also found a large community of other AT hikers on the web and gained advice and momentum from them. But somehow the roar of a bear overshadows the sweet encouragement of lean, muscular, experienced 20-somethings who are trying to encourage 40-something-year-old women.

By the time we got on the trail that April, our heads were spinning with information. Some of it we probably could have done without. But I'm glad to say that our research resulted in us taking the right equipment and leaving unnecessary weight at home. It also helped us get our bodies ready for the burden of going up and down mountains with not-so-small children on our backs, or that's what it felt like we were carrying anyhow. And our studies helped us hike the trails with a measure of confidence and awareness that we would not have had otherwise. And most importantly, of course, we had great looking hiking clothes, because even if we weren't the most proficient hikers on the mountains we were going to be the cutest. (And believe me, we were!)

But here's the thing. The most important piece of research we did was to secure the maps and guide books for the actual trail we were traveling. Those guides showed us the trail intersections, the shelter sites, places to find water, privies, and elevations. We ditched everything else before we got to the AT, but we had our guide book (or copied pages of the section we were doing actually) on the trail for easy referral.

Proverbs 20:18 says, "Prepare plans by consultation, and make war by wise guidance" and in Proverbs 11:14 we read, "Where there is no guidance, the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory."

We're wise when we seek good counsel before starting a new trail, whether that trail be a new ministry, a change in career, a new phase in parenting, a new relationship, a financial investment or simply a new adventure. Others who have been down the path before us can give us tips for the journey, but they can also lend us much needed perspective and a generous helping of courage.

But, as we found out with our AT trip, the greatest resource for gaining knowledge about the path that lies ahead of you is the most foundational guide book there is, the map. God's Word is just such a map. While other Christians can lend us their insight and share from their own experiences, only the Bible can give 100% reliable information for your own journey.

By the end of our backpacking trip, which was cut short a couple of days early due to an unfortunate injury (another post, another day), our copied pages of our AT trail guide were well-worn and dirty. We had consulted those maps over and over in just a few days of hiking. And they had served us well.

How worn and used is your Trail Guide? Do you consult it with every turn and rise in elevation? Do you go to it to find much needed water and shelter? Do you use it to assure you that your goal is within reach and to encourage you to persevere?

Let's get those Bibles out today and make use of them. Not just because we want to look like we know what we're doing, but so that we really will!

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